Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest utility, may be charged and tried for murder or manslaughter if investigators find it operated its equipment in a “reckless” manner that sparked the deadly wildfires that swept through the state in 2017 and 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told a federal judge.
The Attorney General’s statement about the besieged utility, which faces monumental lawsuits and fines stretching back to the 2010 San Bruno gas explosions that killed eight people and injured several others, was submitted to a federal judge in a legal brief last month.
According to The Sacramento Bee, Attorney General Becerra’s briefing on PG&E is strictly advisory and any criminal charges filed against the utility would likely be lodged by district attorneys for the counties harmed by the wildfires.
CalFire, the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, has determined that PG&E broke state law in connection to a dozen of the 2017 wildfires that decimated parts of Napa and Sonoma Counties in 2017.
The state’s investigation of the November Camp Fire wildfires that destroyed the city of Paradise and surrounding communities, killing 86 people, is still underway. Evidence so far points to a faulty or damaged PG&E transmission tower and electrical lines as a potential cause.
According to The Sacramento Bee, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey reached an agreement with PG&E shortly before the Camp Fire started on Nov. 8, pledging not to file criminal charges against the company in exchange for $1.5 million to fund four new fire safety inspectors who would be allowed to inspect PG&E electrical lines.
Mr. Ramsey told The Sacramento Bee that he hasn’t decided whether to bring criminal charges against PG&E over the Camp Fire, even if CalFire finds the utility is to blame. He said “it’s a little premature” to determine the course of action at this point.
Yuba County District Attorney Pat McGrath also declined to press charges over last year’s Cascade Fire, which killed four people, even after Cal Fire determine that PG&E’s “sagging power lines” sparked the blaze. According to The Sacramento Bee, DA McGrath said obtaining a criminal conviction against PG&E would have been too difficult.